You may have seen in the news recently that last week the Church of England voted narrowly against the appointment of women as bishops. Women have been ordained as priests in the Church of England since 1994, but have not been allowed to rise to the rank of bishop. The measure needed 2/3 approval from three houses: the clergy and the bishops voted yes, but the laity house fell short—by six votes. It could be another five years before the issue is brought to vote again.
It’s been a hot topic for Christians in the UK for the past week. Our team wound up discussing this after our team meeting; are people debating this from modern Western ideas of equality, or from what the Bible says? Are the two necessarily at odds, or is that a false dichotomy?
As Tom Wright wrote in the Times, this should be a Biblical issue, and that does make it an issue of equality, because the resurrection of Jesus brought us new, redeemed ways of relating to each other:
So what is the real argument? The other lie to nail is that people who “believe in the Bible” or who “take it literally” will oppose women’s ordination. Rubbish. Yes, I Timothy ii is usually taken as refusing to allow women to teach men. But serious scholars disagree on the actual meaning, as the key Greek words occur nowhere else. That, in any case, is not where to start.
All Christian ministry begins with the announcement that Jesus has been raised from the dead. And Jesus entrusted that task, first of all, not to Peter, James, or John, but to Mary Magdalene. Part of the point of the new creation launched at Easter was the transformation of roles and vocations: from Jews-only to worldwide, from monoglot to multilingual (think of Pentecost), and from male-only leadership to male and female together.
Within a few decades, Paul was sending greetings to friends including an “apostle” called Junia (Romans xvi, 7). He entrusted that letter to a “deacon” called Phoebe whose work was taking her to Rome. The letter-bearer would normally be the one to read it out to the recipients and explain its contents. The first expositor of Paul’s greatest letter was an ordained travelling businesswoman.
The resurrection of Jesus is the only Christian guide to the question of where history is going. Unlike the ambiguous “progress” of the Enlightenment, it is full of promise — especially the promise of transformed gender roles.
Tom Wright has been both Bishop and scholar himself (former Bishop of Durham and current professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of St Andrews) so his opinions come from a place I respect. I also acknowledge, though, that this debate is complicated by high emotions and strong feelings on all sides, and you may feel differently. What do you think?